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The Wasting of Borneo: Dispatches from a…
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The Wasting of Borneo: Dispatches from a Vanishing World

by Alex Shoumatoff

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Alex Shoumatoff's book is a bargain. Even if I had paid the listed hardcover price for The Wasting of Borneo it would still have been a steal. Here is a wealth of information and insight about how the environment is being destroyed. There is no reason to doubt Shoumatoff's contention that few people know anything about eradication of Borneo's rain forestry. It is happening just so trees can be grown for their palm oil.

This book details facts about nature which you probably did not know. You probably never knew elephants will instinctively move to higher ground if a tsunami is headed their way. What about the fact that an elephant's trunk contains over 50-thousand different muscles? It was fascinating to learn of the acacia tree emitting a putrid odor when giraffes eat too much vegetation. The giraffe in turn moves upwind to eat from the tree that is not producing the odor.

We are so caught up in everyday conveniences that most of us pay scant notice to stories as important as what's happening in Borneo. The author, who subtitles his book Dispatches from a Vanishing World, went to that part of the world with a friend he has known since childhood to capture the story. He points out that the deforestation can ultimately be blamed on our consumption of palm oil. His hope is that a palm oil alternative is found.

Full disclosure: I received the book free. I was an early reviewer of The Wasting of Borneo, thanks to Library Thing.
  JamesBanzer | Jul 28, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Won this books in the Early Reviewers Giveaway.

Although the topic seemed promising and interesting, I couldn't get through the book. The prose is rambly and sometimes hard to follow, making it difficult to engage with the text.

I'm sure it's interesting but not for me. ( )
  postsbygina | Jun 22, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a striking work, chronicling one man's journey toward connecting to the natural world and his attempts to not just understand vanishing cultures and worlds, but help to document and save them. From the stories of his first connecting to animals and the forests around his childhood home, on to experiences in Borneo, Shoumatoff paints the natural world and its inhabitants with careful and elegant strokes, offering attention to details that few people might have noticed. As a whole, the book is a call to arms for cultural and biological diversity, and a lovesong to Borneo that echoes provocatively, if sadly, from its pages.

If the book has a downfall, it's that the title and the jacket suggest that the whole of the work is focused on Borneo, whereas only the last two thirds of the book is really centered there. As a reader, I found myself anxious to get to that portion of the book, having not expected the slow and more personal build-up; by the time I was really enjoying the beginning, in fact, the book was moving on to Borneo. As a result, I almost wish this had been a few separate works, or that I'd better known what I was walking into. Perhaps even that the second portion of the book had been quite a bit longer, and more lingering. Now that I've finished, this last impulse may be the strongest--moments were given such depth, and I think I might have liked more depth to the larger picture, or a more sustained idea of his journey in Borneo, instead of the narrative given here which so often felt fragmented, and outside of time or linear progression.

Still, for readers interested in vanishing cultures or in careful memoirs and narratives that focus on appreciation for the natural world, I'd certainly recommend Shoumatoff's work. It had moments where it was slow, but on the whole, it was a gorgeous glimpse into places I've never visited and given too little thought to. I look forward to reading more of Shoumatoff's work, and to looking up some of those works he mentioned in the writing of this one. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Jun 12, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I very much enjoyed the first half of this book, in which Shoumatoff meditates on the wonders of a childhood spent outdoors. The writing sparkles so much that it took me forever to get through, because I kept putting it down to go enjoy the woods myself. That is effective writing indeed! The sections on human-animal communication are more whimsical than scientific, but perhaps if more people had that sense of wonder, they'd be less cavalier about spending their waking hours going from screen to screen to screen to big-box store to screen to bed.

Ironically, sections where Shoumatoff describes his travels in the vanishing natural world—ie, the reason this book was written—are by far the weakest. Shoumatoff has a fantasy of the idyllic, pristine, pre-modern Eden that he will let nothing, and I mean nothing, alter. This includes multiple conversations with Penan indigenous peoples whose words are rendered in “me speak good” pigdin English (except when he forgets) and one particularly cringe-worth passage when he slobbers over “the most authentic looling Penan we've met yet.” (The other Penan you met were what? Imposters? These are human beings, not mummers playing roles for your ecotourism adventure.) He laments how the Penan are not passing down their traditional tales--suket--but fails to notice that the only two he relates revolve around women being murdered by their husbands or sons, which kinda puts lie to his claim that gender-based violence is an outside importation.

Shoumatoff's blind spots don't end there. In this book alone, he travels to Brazil, Canada, the Cayman Islands, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dubai, Greece, Jamaica, somewhere in the Kalahari, Madagascar, Mali, Mexico, Peru, Rwanda, Switzerland, Thailand, Uganda, Zaire, and Zimbabwe--many of these locations multiple times--to say nothing of repeatedly crisscrossing the US in a matter of days. That's some carbon footprint you've got there, ecocrusader!

Of course, he'd likely say it's an unfortunate but unavoidable downside to his life's work of bringing attention to global environmental degradation. A critic might say that's a nice-sounding way to justify his globe-trotting adventure tourism. It's no different than Shoumatoff criticizing governments for prioritizing economic gain over conservation; they say they're raising living standards, he says it's all excuses. And this the book's Achilles' heel, and one Shoumatoff's either too unwilling or too imperceptive to address. When it comes to the environment, everyone believes their actions are justified and altruistic, that the other guy is prioritizing his own selfish needs over the health of the planet, and should therefore stop what he's doing first. Meanwhile, climate change and environmental degredation continue apace.

Bottom line: it's worth checking out this volume for its lyrical opening chapters, but the latter sections—and the weight of Shoumatoff's message—could have done with a lot more introspection and nuance. My sense is that this message, with this author, would have been better served in essay form.
  Trismegistus | Jun 12, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The collection of stories was fascinating, though it seemed to get a little lost toward the end of the book. The writing was great and the focus on individuals' personal stories as they related to the ecological conflict was more engaging than a simple explanation of the problems would have been. I did find the writer's AR leanings distracting at times. Overall would recommend as an up-close look at how the palm oil industry is destroying wildlife and indigenous peoples' way of life. ( )
  annahesser | Jun 8, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0807078247, Hardcover)

Acclaimed naturalist Alex Shoumatoff issues a worldwide call to protect the drastically endangered rainforests of Borneo

In this wide-ranging narrative, seasoned travel and environmental writer Alex Shoumatoff takes readers on a journey from the woods of rural New York to the rain forests of the Amazon and Borneo, documenting both the abundance of life and the threats to these vanishing Edens.

Since growing up in the forest of Bedford, New York, Shoumatoff has built a career as an author and journalist, traveling the world to bring to light places, animals, and indigenous cultures in peril. And there is hardly any place more imperiled than Borneo. Insatiable demand for the palm oil ubiquitous in Western consumer goods is wiping out the world’s most ancient and species-rich rain forest, home to the orangutan and countless other life-forms, as well as the Penan people, who are fighting for their right to exist as their home is logged and burned to make way for vast palm-oil plantations. Shoumatoff takes us to their villages and introduces us to their way of life and their habitat.

In his first book in twenty years, Shoumatoff explores what binds humans to animals, nature, and each other, and calls for Westerners to address the palm-oil crisis and protect the biodiversity that sustains us all.

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 06 Sep 2016 19:29:37 -0400)

Acclaimed naturalist Alex Shoumatoff issues a worldwide call to protect the drastically endangered rainforests of Borneo In his eleventh book, but his first in almost two decades, seasoned travel writer Alex Shoumatoff takes readers on a journey from the woods of rural New York to the rain forests of the Amazon and Borneo, documenting both the abundance of life and the threats to these vanishing Edens in a wide-ranging narrative. Alex and his best friend, Davie, spent their formative years in the forest of Bedford, New York. As adults they grew apart, but bonded by the "imaginary jungle" of their childhood, Alex and Davie reunited fifty years later for a trip to a real jungle, in the heart of Borneo. During the intervening years, Alex had become an author and literary journalist, traveling the world to bring to light places, animals, and indigenous cultures in peril. The two reconnect and spend three weeks together on Borneo, one of the most imperiled ecosystems on earth. Insatiable demand for the palm oil ubiquitous in consumer goods is wiping out the world's most ancient and species-rich rain forest, home to the orangutan and countless other life-forms, including the Penan people, with whom Alex and Davie camp. The Penan have been living in Borneo's rain forest for millennia, but 90 percent of the lowland rain forest has already been logged and burned to make way for vast oil-palm plantations. Among the most endangered tribal people on earth, the Penan are fighting for their right to exist. Shoumatoff condenses a lifetime of learning about what binds humans to animals, nature, and each other, culminating in a celebration of the Penan and a call for Westerners to address the palm-oil crisis and protect the biodiversity that sustains us all.… (more)

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